Practices for Improving the Coordination of Information Technology and Transportation Systems Management and Operations Resources: A Reference Document
IT departments or offices generally have two primary roles: protecting and regulating IT assets and providing customer service for groups needing IT support. This dual role underscores why some agencies have identified the importance of IT organizations to understand the wide range of business requirements across a transportation agency, particularly for programs with such ingrained need for technology as TSMO and ITS. Similarly, the rapid evolution of technology overall and in procuring technology supporting services and agency needs for cybersecurity protection, illustrate the importance of TSMO and ITS groups better understanding both the role of centralized IT groups and the valuable resources they can provide to the operational mission of transportation agencies. A mutual lack of understanding between IT and TSMO reflects a traditional difference in culture between the two groups. The difference in culture is reflected throughout the functions of the organization, including business management, transportation program management, managing devices and assets, and operations management (including both traffic and maintenance operations as well as public safety and emergency response operations). More discussion of common understanding between TSMO Staff and IT staff is presented in the section “Point of Departure: Difference Between TSMO and Information Technology Environments.”
Chapter 2. The Context and Benefits of Information Technology and TSMO Coordination
This chapter describes the importance of IT and TSMO coordination in the context of public-sector transportation agencies. A brief history of IT and TSMO development and evolution within transportation agencies highlights the differences in approach and function that may influence the current environment, while an examination into the overlapping technology highlights the benefit of continued coordination. The chapter concludes with a table and discussion summarizing what agencies have determined to be beneficial for IT staff to know about TSMO, and what they have determined to be beneficial for TSMO staff to know about IT. The table and discussion provide context to many of the subsequent common challenge and identified practice discussions in the remainder of the document.
As the transportation industry continually evolves to take advantage of the emergence of new technologies and incorporating technology in all aspects of agency business, there is increasing interaction between TSMO programs and IT oversight and support functions. These interactions reflect a dual role for many IT organizations. IT organizations support TSMO and ITS technology and communications efforts, and they may also have an oversight and approval role for certain aspects of TSMO and ITS technology implementations, particularly for security and procurement. With these additional interactions, agency staff have identified a greater need for each group to understand the business requirements of the other.
In transportation agencies, there are evolving customer expectations of technology and tools, from both internal and external customers, as well as increased concerns over potential threats that are posed by cybersecurity breaches in an increasingly connected workplace. The potential threats are posed to both organizational enterprise IT applications (like email or access to the web) and internal business systems. Because of these threats and the need to cost-effectively procure technology that will meet the wide-ranging needs of transportation agencies, agencies emphasize providing centralized expertise and oversight to protect technology investments and services and to support the operational mission of public agencies.
The dual role of IT organizations (protecting and regulating IT assets and providing customer service for groups desiring information technology support) and the increasing number of technology solutions deployed by TSMO organizations led many agencies to recognize the importance of mutual understanding between IT and TSMO groups. This mutual understanding is somewhat hampered by the way each group developed. The role of IT within transportation agencies has evolved over time as ITS evolved from an early traffic management focus to the more complex multiple strategies of TSMO. This evolution includes both its role in back-office business applications, as well as in the systems and technology supporting TSMO strategies themselves.
Early Information Technology Support of Agency Business Functions
IT groups came into being to develop and support complex agency business applications, such as accounting and personnel management, that were primarily operated offline in “batch” mode by large mainframe computers. While the physical scale of the hardware was large, the processing capabilities were limited to set functions with relatively restricted interfaces. Input was largely done through punch cards, magnetic tape, or simple keyboards. Output was normally stored on magnetic tape or printed. As functionality increased in the late 1970s and 1980s, users were able to provide varied input through modular terminals or consoles.
Structured IT resources within transportation agencies developed in earnest as agencies began switching from mainframe computing to personal computers. The adoption of personal computers in the 1980s and 1990s required agencies to decentralize, establish networks, and support a growing number of new software applications. The increased technical resources necessary to manage the new hardware and varied software was significantly greater than in the past and initiated the “information technology” groups that are common today.
Initial Independence of TSMO Applications
Separate from the above business-based computing, technology directly supporting transportation functions largely developed independently. Initiating and expanding these traffic systems were often completed without direct support of IT resources because the technology was specialized and located within a branch of the organization without high volume business (customer) transactions.
In the 1970s and 1980s, traffic management systems (the precursor to ITS) operated in real-time on microprocessor-based field devices along with centralized mini-computers. Because these systems did not need to integrate into the wider agency technology ecosystem, they often operated on dedicated communication lines and networks entirely independent of other State agency systems. Software packages were also stand-alone. The traffic management systems were often programmed in assembler code and FORTRAN, whereas many of the standard IT applications used for business processes were programmed in business-oriented languages like COBOL.
These differences in devices and applications and the related computing platforms and languages led IT groups and ITS groups within transportation agencies to develop separate networks, equipment, and distinct business practices. The differences also led to separate organizational components with minimal overlap and understanding between IT and ITS staff. Often, staff within one agency’s ITS unit did not see value in involving IT staff in a technology project because they did not think that IT staff understood the operations business requirements, especially real-time, 24/7 operations. Rather than educate the IT staff on the ITS units’ priorities, the managers developed their own “shadow IT” group within the Operations Division to implement technology projects.
As more sophisticated transportation management systems developed and expanded, transportation agencies started to see the value in integrating systems to share data and provide an integrated user interface to allow multiple systems to be monitored and controlled from a single workstation. The development of ITS placed more emphasis on integrating systems, which led to the development of the National ITS Architecture. The growth of transportation management systems also led to huge growth in the number of field devices that are connected to a central management system. Transportation agencies developed multi-purpose communication networks to provide the connection and the bandwidth to support applications, like transmitting live, full-motion closed-circuit television (CCTV) images. The transportation management communication networks were completely separate from the agency’s internal telecommunication networks, which were developed to support increased business needs, like email. IT staff managed the business communication network, and transportation management staff managed the transportation management communication network.
Increasing Role of Information Technology in TSMO
Today, new technology, big data, and the continuous operation of field devices has turned transportation agencies into heavy IT users. Virginia DOT has identified how IT and TSMO—a specific type of operational technology (OT)—have grown closer together and have significant overlap (figure 1). As the Virginia DOT Director of Technology and Cybersecurity observed, “Unlike the past, many new technologies fall under both IT and OT, further driving the need for convergence between the two.”1
Image comparing the past and future relationships between IT and OT. In the past, IT and OT did not overlap. In the future, IT and OT overlap in the categories of cybersecurity, mobility, data integration, cloud storage, connected devices, digital twin, IoT, remote monitoring, predictive analytics, AI, integrated supply chain, and disaster recovery.
As agencies transition from traditional project-focused agencies to operations-focused agencies, TSMO efforts are becoming more complex and integrated across platforms and jurisdictions. Internal systems are no longer single suites, but a system of systems. A range of changes has led to increased intersection between TSMO and IT, including:
Taken together, these systems make heavy demands on hardware maintenance, software support, network IT, communication (fiber) knowledge, and other IT-related resources. It is important to consider and understand the hierarchy of importance of various TSMO devices and systems. Moving from isolated devices to linked TSMO systems requiring extensive IT expertise is a spectrum. There is value for agencies to have clarity in thinking through what field assets can be more isolated or stand-alone, which are connected to a main system via a communications network (requiring IT support) but in an observation-only capacity (we can “see” what the ramp meters are doing, but not alter their state remotely), and those that are fully connected for central control and often include data sharing with external organizations (generally requiring extensive IT support). This also relates to cybersecurity and ITS devices and systems. Some devices and systems are more critical than others. An understanding of what is most important for fail-safe operations is key. A loop detector failing is probably not an immediate critical failure, whereas a signal control system or reversible lane control system failure is critical. It is important to understand that there is flexibility and hierarchy of needs for IT resources within the TSMO environment.
For the more complex systems, IT support is crucial. While “shadow IT” staff within a traffic group could support previous ITS elements, advanced strategies and systems are becoming more IT-centric and require a dedicated team of IT professionals for support. As a result, TSMO and IT increasingly intersect and create both opportunities and challenges for increasing cooperation and coordination. Opportunities include the ability to collaborate, leverage respective skill sets, and gain advantages in procurement and maintaining IT infrastructure. Challenges include disconnects, misunderstandings, and points of conflict on program priorities, risks, and potential difference in standards for availability and redundancy for enterprise ITS versus including industrial control systems and supervisory control and data acquisition-type environments.
Staff Development Challenge
The overall job market for knowledgeable technology employees is very strong and makes it difficult for public agencies to hire and retain qualified staff. Many States have experienced an increased difficulty in recruiting positions with the multidisciplinary knowledge required in TSMO due to private industry competition and internal human resources constraints.
Available compensation levels offered from one State DOT could not compete with private pay, particularly with the strict position classifications and pay structure required by human resources. While TSMO staff involved with the traffic management center and ITS have identified the need for IT knowledge, the job classifications are included in the broad category of “maintenance,” and are not allowed to be advertised as specialists in particular IT areas. The result is that it is very difficult to establish positions that require IT knowledge and even more difficult to establish pay levels that are attractive to people with the necessary IT knowledge and experience.
This project’s literature review, workshops, and stakeholder interviews found that improved coordination and collaboration between TSMO and IT is often grounded in a basic understanding of key differences in perspectives, roles, and processes that characterize the differences between the two disciplines. Until recently, TSMO and IT staff supporting a transportation agency may not have extensive exposure to each other’s mission or operational responsibilities. This could be a function of physical location, organizational structure, processes, or lack of opportunity. Regardless of the reason for separation, there is benefit in understanding the general perspectives, roles, and practices of the other group when working together.
Overcoming Domain Differences
Prior to detailing key challenges, principles, and strategies for improving TSMO and IT coordination and collaboration, it is important to address these differences and identify what staff and management in each group identify as important know about the other’s basic views and perspectives. In the following section, selected key differences and similarities are highlighted that crosscut the subsequent discussion of specific challenges presented in subsequent chapters and provide an important background for enhanced mutual understanding. These differences are both institutional in nature (including both general perspectives and roles) and process-related (focusing on certain key practices on each side).
The key differences between TSMO and IT perspectives, roles, and practices have been grouped into six areas:
There has been some experience to date in overcoming these differences. In the discussion of each area below, some examples from specific agencies are provided to illustrate these differences.
Discipline Governing Principles
Governing principles reflect the orientation of a discipline and how they are embodied in an organization and its basic practices on a day-to-day basis. For the TSMO professionals, those principles focus on ensuring safe and efficient day-to-day operational control of the transportation network. This requires not only complex application-specific transportation management infrastructure and processes but also interfacing with external players who are key partners in service provision. It is also important to the safety and efficiency of the network that management system elements are available whenever they are needed, regardless of the time of day or day of week. TSMO staff emphasize uptime of transportation management systems and component parts and structure their support to respond accordingly.
The IT role is typically broad based across multiple Government agencies, and functions with communication and information needs. This results in a dual role, providing cost-effective IT solutions for other business lines or organizations, as well as acting as stewards of IT assets within their jurisdiction. Thus, IT staff may act as service providers to their customer organizations, such as TSMO units, while they must also enforce policies to safeguard the entire enterprise technology environment. These policies typically deal with procurement, securing the communication network, or data governance consistent with standards and practices established at the governmental level. Sometimes these policies do not seem to align with the expeditious conduct of TSMO staff missions. However, it is important for TSMO staff to understand these roles and work with IT staff to find solutions that will comply with both sets of governing principles.
One example of emerging practice is illustrated below by the experience of Florida DOT in clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the TSMO and IT groups.
Case Study of Florida DOT Practice: Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
Like many public agencies, the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) TSMO group has IT governance and support at both the Statewide and DOT levels. At the enterprise level, the Agency for State Technology (AST) under the Department of Management Services provides State agencies with guidance and strategic direction on areas such as cybersecurity and data analytics, while also providing master contracts for essential technology services. Within FDOT, the Office of Transportation Technology (OTT) aligns IT strategies and operations to support the safety and connectivity of Florida’s roadways.
Targeted efforts to clarify roles and responsibilities have improved coordination between the various groups. In general, the State AST staff focus on the IT security aspects, documentation, policy, and IT business processes while FDOT OTT staff focus more on the operational implementation of technology. Separate from both groups, FDOT TSMO staff manage the IT-TSMO systems and devices.
Within FDOT, TSMO and OTT have closely coordinated to better understand each other’s skills and strengths. Specific to planning efforts, TSMO included OTT staff in the development of the TSMO Strategic Plan and continues to clarify roles and responsibilities in the CAV Plan. From an ongoing perspective, senior managers from OTT attend FDOT Statewide TSMO, ITS, and CAV workshops to remain engaged with the TSMO related IT needs and issues. FDOT staff indicated that these ongoing efforts in the planning stages have improved coordination during the implementation stages.
Chapter 3 addresses key challenges relating to domain components in terms of organization, staff, and financial resources.
The functions served by each discipline determine the structure of the key functional components of each domain, including business units and their characteristic systems and devices.
For TSMO, the domains consist of field devices and third-party data sources, central servers, and the communication components that link them, which are substantially managed out of a TMC. While TSMO has key back-office, information-based activities in a TMC, most of the assets are in the field, presenting a significant difference compared to other functions and services supported by IT. Operating, troubleshooting, and maintaining devices in a field setting with its safety and security implications presents different challenges compared to the office environment that characterizes most IT contexts.
IT domains consist of data centers or back-office systems, database systems, and the internal and external network communications that link them. Physical devices and assets are primarily business-oriented, rather than operations-oriented, and are located in an office environment. Security of the networks and assets is essential. The TSMO and ITS functions are only a small subset of most Statewide or agency-wide IT domains, which are quite large.
One example of an emerging practice is illustrated below, in which an issue of TSMO field network needs versus Statewide network limitations was resolved.
Domain Network Location and Support
The Louisiana Office of Technology Services (OTS) is the centralized IT support group that provides enterprise-level network and security support. While the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LADOTD) has internal IT staff that support ITS and communication needs, as well as triage issues, some TSMO functions operate on the Statewide network, and therefore are affected by activity and changes implemented by OTS.
An example of a conflict between the Statewide network and local ITS functionality involved the loss of video after OTS implemented new security policies. All computers connected to the enterprise network lost the ability to play multicast video. To resolve the issue, DOTD moved the computers to an existing DOTD-specific network that did not have the newer security protocols that caused the conflict. While this was considered a temporary solution, the issue highlights the importance of network maintenance in a network that supports continuous (24/7) functionality.
Chapter 3 addresses key challenges relating to domain components in terms of organization, staff, and financial resources.
Risk Management and Security
Although both TSMO staff and IT staff may use the same or similar tools to manage risks, their views of what constitute risks and the severity of given risks may be quite different.
For TSMO staff, the most important risks deal with external customer life-safety issues and providing a safe transportation system. Failure of transportation system elements for any reason when they are needed is essentially a system failure and pose significant risks to the traveling public. These risks are greatest when the elements are needed most, during period of high congestion or traffic disruptions and emergencies. Thus, TSMO risk management emphasizes the need for systems and devices to fail-safe or fail-soft and the need to schedule troubleshooting and maintenance with minimum impact of real-time systems operations.
Risks from the perspective of IT staff are viewed from a system integrity perspective, often on a jurisdiction-wide basis. It is important to have the entire IT network, data, and other IT assets protected from unauthorized intrusion because this can compromise the entire enterprise network, including financial systems and private data. Thus, the IT focus within TSMO must not only accomplish the needs of the TSMO organization but also protect the enterprise network from intrusion and protect the confidentiality, integrity, and reliability of agency data.
One example of emerging practice is illustrated below, in which an issue of security of data sharing and network access was solved through structured data-sharing agreements.
Define Data and Access Agreements to Maintain Security
Within Maricopa County, Arizona, several local agencies share a regional fiber network and data archival system that they jointly developed as part of a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Metropolitan Model Deployment Initiative. The platform—managed by a regional operations coalition, called AZTech—involves participation by each independent agency, which also involves coordination across many independent IT departments and offices that that may not have been involved in the Model Deployment effort and may not fully understand the overall mission.
Sharing communication networks and agency data requires technical interoperability, or data compatibility at a minimum. Differing network structures and security protocols within the AZTech stakeholder agencies have resulted in firewall issues and restrictions in data and network access and data management and can make data and system integration more difficult. This is compounded by staff turnover and changes in leadership or equipment.
To ensure continuous functionality of the system, the AZTech partners developed data-access and data-sharing agreements that outline the requirements of participation. The agreements hold agencies accountable for maintaining an agreed upon level of access and providing a particular data stream for regional archive. The AZTech partners also identify responsibilities for maintenance, operation, and expanding the shared network. The importance of the agreement increases as time advances due to the number of changes that could purposefully or inadvertently change the agencies included in AZTech or their level of participation.
Chapter 3 addresses key challenges related to risk management and security.
Standards and Architecture
While both TSMO and IT have discipline-specific criteria, TSMO criteria are embedded in systems architectures that have their own demands.
TSMO has a strong, systems engineering basis with a specialized approach to the architecture needed for efficient deployment and operations of TSMO applications, combining communications, control, information, and supporting hardware and software. Federal programs have introduced requirements for ITS systems engineering2 and a National ITS Architecture.3
Voluntary or non-Federal IT standards typically revolve around a broad set of security, technology compatibility, and a variety of developed hardware and software standards that serve the full range of IT services and applications across multiple activities and agencies at the agency or Statewide levels. IT staff need to comply with State legal or State CIO mandated standards and policies that serve the full range of IT services provided, whether for transportation or other agencies. While there are formal, non-Federal IT certifications for network management, project management, system design and development (examples include Cisco Certified Network Professional and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, Microsoft Azure and Dynamics 365, Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional), most organizations do not require these certifications for an employee to work on a particular technology component.
One example of an emerging practice is illustrated below, in which the challenges of integrating disparate TSMO systems deployed over a long-time horizon is being addressed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT).
System Integration to Maintain Legacy Systems
Like many public agencies, TDOT deployed technology systems throughout the past several decades. Due to the significant financial and human capital costs associated with the larger systems, many systems are maintained despite limited available replacement technology.
TDOT had several legacy systems that functioned and provided their intended use but did not work together and were not consistently interoperable. These systems were developed ad hoc over the years and not coordinated due to various reasons, including schedule, technology, or funding. While the lack of interoperability prohibits some efficiencies, TDOT is attempting to integrate (or develop interfaces) between the older systems and newer systems as technology becomes available and installed.
Chapter 3 addresses key challenges associated with standards related to systems and technology.
Devices and Assets
There are significant differences in how TSMO and IT devices and systems are managed and maintained, partially because of the differences discussed previously. TSMO assets are mission critical, and the processes for maintaining and repairing TSMO devices are specific to devices and locations that have limited physical access and downtime constraints. Because transportation field equipment generally lasts longer than most IT devices due to their hardened nature, the result is often a mix of new and legacy equipment that requires a broad range of troubleshooting and repair skills to maintain. Aside from the technology and physical location challenges, transportation systems often include multiple agencies, which involves data sharing and collaboration with multiple partner organizations.
IT systems are applied to a wide range of functions within and among agencies and across the networks and standardized equipment of entire jurisdictions. Configuration management, data governance, and data management are becoming more important features of managing IT systems, for which IT staff need to have access to both equipment and data, which in turn introduces challenges of system and data access control and identity verification. Procurement and licensing of software and technology are often managed on a jurisdiction-wide basis with both financial and performance implications regarding the special needs and priorities on any specific agency or unit.
One example of emerging practice is illustrated below, in which a holistic lifecycle approach was introduced to support the role of IT in maintaining and replacing ITS devices and systems.
Develop Lifecycle Costs to Support Device and Asset Maintenance and Replacement
The money required to deploy and maintain IT-TSMO systems can be significant and requires annual resources both in terms of staffing and maintenance. Within the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), various groups deployed ITS features without considering product lifecycle, technical support, or replacement costs. As a result, PennDOT developed an approach to evaluate their IT and ITS investments from a holistic lifecycle cost perspective.
The largest hurdle involved in the lifecycle approach was inventorying everything in the field and understanding what was installed, what purpose it was serving, and how it related to other features. This involved a systems approach to map out the inventory from software platform to network connections to field device.
Not only did the cost of staff resources who maintain and service the equipment increase with the number of assets installed, but each District had preferred vendors and manufacturers. Staff and budget constraints within PennDOT prevented IT from supporting the number and variety of equipment and systems. As such, to increase the efficiencies within the IT group and ultimately reduce recurring costs, PennDOT simplified the number of available manufacturers and required projects to remain within the standards.
From the reverse perspective, adding technology to automate functions can be beneficial to the lifecycle cost. PennDOT identified value in providing communication to traffic signal corridors and allowing remote connectivity. The increased investment in technology offset the ongoing time investment for managing the signals and resulted in an overall cost savings because staff could modify timing remotely.
Chapter 3 addresses the key challenges associated with managing systems in terms of systems and technology, procurement, and risk/security.
Although many of the underlying future technologies will be the same for both TSMO systems and IT systems, there are some notable differences.
The technologies that will be incorporated into transportation systems will largely focus on efficiency improvements and utilizing expanded data sources to improve transportation control systems and decision-making. Technologies that support connected and automated vehicles, Smart Cities, mobility on demand, and other emerging concepts will be critical to meet growing transportation needs and challenges.4 Technologies used will often be substantially driven by the market and often initiated by the private sector.
The technologies that will be incorporated into IT systems will be driven by evolving internal business needs across an agency. Trends include a movement toward more cloud storage and cloud-computing, mobile access, and more reliance on increasingly sophisticated web services. These technologies will allow a greater independence from specific physical assets and locations. Flexibility, physical security and cybersecurity, and a reduction in capital investments will be the drivers in adopting new technologies for IT.
One example of emerging practice is illustrated below, in which a TSMO program uses outside technical support to obtain special technical capabilities.
Outsource Services for Support
TSMO-based operational activities and strategies are continuous (24/7/365) efforts that do not follow standard business hours. As such, DOTD (like many other agencies) often needs IT support during unplanned IT events or failures. However, the statewide IT group, the Louisiana OTS is not accustomed to supporting systems in real-time.
As a large Statewide IT provider, the Louisiana OTS operates on a ticketing system and typically responds in the order that tickets are received, which could delay service to the DOTD ITS group. This approach does not align with the urgency experienced during a technical failure within a traffic operations group. In addition, the OTS technical support staff work typical Government business hours, meaning there is no service available on weekends, holidays, and after-hours. This can present issues when the enterprise network experiences problems or email or communication systems failures.
To address the operational needs of the group, the DOTD ITS group has outsourced services to both vendors and engineering firms. These businesses, particularly the vendors, are often more familiar with the ITS technology than OTS staff and may have helped design or install the systems. The outsourcing also provides the DOTD increased flexibility in terms of response timeframes and the contracting allows more leverage over performance.
Chapter 3 addresses the key challenges associated with future challenges in terms of systems and technologies.
Summarizing Differences on Perspective
This section highlighted the differences in perspectives and program management priorities between TSMO and IT professionals. These distinctions are summarized in table 1.
By examining the table, one can highlight some potential important differences in perspective between IT staff and TSMO staff. These differences demonstrate varying understanding of terminology, practices, policies, focus areas, and viewpoints.
4 “A smart city is a framework, predominantly composed of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), to develop, deploy and promote sustainable development practices to address growing urbanization challenges.” Smart Cities and Integrated Mobility: A White Paper. Polytechnique Montreal, June 2018.[Return to note 4]
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration